A! Magazine for the Arts

Barter Theatre Breathes New Life into Familiar Christmas Story

December 11, 2006

"It's a Wonderful Life" is the now famous tale of a family man, George Bailey, who has lived his whole life in the small town of Bedford Falls working at The Building and Loan, but suddenly finds himself questioning his purpose and existence. That questioning takes place on the railing of a bridge, overlooking a body of water, while an angel by the unusually non-Biblical name of Clarence tries to convince him that his life is indeed worth living.

The centerpiece of the Barter Theatre's production is the bridge that tempts George Bailey to commit suicide, and all of the events and flashbacks that come from his memory revolve around that salient piece. This production is very similar to the familiar movie version, from the casting to the use of flashbacks, except for the fact that the Barter's play, through its great design and solid production, retains a finer sense that George's chance of feeling successful wavers between his suicidal intentions and his family. While stories of George's life play out before him like clips from his imagination, death is always waiting for him just over the bridge. The way set pieces slide in and out on the stage give the play a very dream-like quality that is just right for this tale about finding happiness in what is familiar.

Performances were, as usual, top-notch. Rick McVey (George Bailey) had at times an uncanny resemblance and voice to the original George, Jimmy Stewart. His subtle Stewart-esque mannerisms and articulations make up for the fact that McVey, who is probably over 55, is playing a young man who is desperate to go to college and is still having arguments with his father over the dream to leave Bedford Falls. Mike Ostroski, who is more closely aged to George Bailey's character, ironically plays the father of George. Other than these difficult casting choices, the performances excel far and beyond. Michael Poisson in particular, who plays Uncle Billy, the partner with George at The Building and Loan, steals the stage with his thespian maturity and sheer range of emotions. His performance is both physically strong and emotionally expressive, switching to humor or sympathy whenever needed.

"It's a Wonderful Life" is directed by Richard Rose and will be running through December 30th on the Main Stage. The Barter Theatre is also presenting this holiday season Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol and The Christmas Tree.

Editor's Note: Stephen Woodward is an English and Art student at Emory & Henry College.